Onokhov of the North: Coming of Age in Chukotka

Still from The Whaler Boy.

As a film historian/critic who specializes in chronicling, critiquing and deconstructing celluloid stereotypes of Indigenous peoples, Russian Philipp Yuryev’s The Whaler Boy made a big impression upon me. On the one hand, the Moscow-born writer/director’s debut full-length feature is a strikingly original movie set among the Native people in Siberia’s Great White North. On the other hand, the Russian auteur’s The Whaler Boy reminded me of several other films plus a classic book.

This 93-minute movie is largely shot on location in Chukotka, a village inhabited by Inuits in the Russian Far East, bordered by the East Siberian Sea, which is part of the Arctic Ocean. Vladimir Onokhov delivers a poignant performance as the title character in The Whaler Boy, who is named Leshka. The 15-year-old and his best friend, Kolyan (Vladimir Lyubimtsev), live a semi-traditional lifestyle in a Chukotka village near the Bering Strait, with ramshackle, grim-looking low-rise apartments and houses, where the power often fails (just as their motorbikes breakdown motorboats run out of gas, perhaps metaphors of “modernity” failing Indigenous people).

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Ed Rampell was named after legendary CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow because of his TV exposes of Senator Joe McCarthy. Rampell majored in Cinema at Manhattan’s Hunter College and is an L.A.-based film historian/critic who co-organized the 2017 70th anniversary Blacklist remembrance at the Writers Guild theater in Beverly Hills and was a moderator at 2019’s “Blacklist Exiles in Mexico” filmfest and conference at the San Francisco Art Institute. Rampell co-presented “The Hollywood Ten at 75” film series at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and is the author of Progressive Hollywood, A People’s Film History of the United States and co-author of The Hawaii Movie and Television Book.    

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